Vandals destroy 22,000-year-old sacred cave art in Australia

In the flat, arid region of southern Australia, Koonalda Cave is home to art that dates back 22,000 years — a sacred site for the Mirning Aboriginal people and a discovery that changed scientists’ understanding of history.

The cave, which housed its art, has now been defaced with graffiti, devastating the indigenous Mirning community as authorities search for the culprits.

“Earlier this year it was discovered that the cave had been illegally accessed and part of the fingerprints had been damaged, with the damage being on the side of the cave,” a government spokesman said in a statement to CNN.

The flutes are sticks carved by the fingers of ice age humans on the smooth limestone cave walls.

“The destruction of Koonalda Cave is shocking and heartbreaking. Koonalda Cave is of great importance to the Mirning people, and tens of thousands of years of history show the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation in that part of the country,” the spokesman said. . say.

“If these vandals can be caught they should face the full force of the law.”

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Vandals were not deterred by fencing at the caves, so the South Australian state government is now considering installing security cameras and has been consulting traditional owners “in recent months” on how to better protect the site, the spokesman added.

However, Bunna Lawrie, a Mirning elder and Koonalda guardian, said he had not heard about the damage until local media reported it this week.

“We are the traditional guardians of Koonalda and we ask that this be respected and our Mirning elders be consulted,” he said in a statement.

The incident has disappointed the people of Mirning, who say their repeated pleas for increased security were ignored.

As a sacred site, it is closed to the public and accessible only to a few elderly men in the community, the group said in a statement. In addition to the spiritual significance of the cave, the restrictions are also to protect the beautiful art, some of which is placed on the floor of the cave.

Despite the legal protections, the group said it has still received requests to allow public access to Koonalda.

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“We have objected to opening our sanctuary, because this would violate the protocols that have protected Koonalda for a long time. Since 2018 we have been asking for help to gain access as a priority and provide the appropriate Mirning symbols. This help was not forthcoming,” the statement said.

“Instead, there has been damage done in recent years which includes the cave entrance collapsing, following access works that we were not advised of and (were not authorized).”

It added that as a site that represented a link to Mirning’s ancestors and home land, Koonalda “is more than a precious work of art, it runs deep into our blood and identity.”

The importance of the cave

For decades, Australian scientists believed that the country’s indigenous people had only lived on the land for about 8,000 years.

Koonalda Cave was the first site in Australia for aboriginal rock art that may be 22,000 years old — increasing scientists’ understanding of Australia’s history.

“The discovery created a sensation and completely changed the accepted ideas at the time about where, when and how Aboriginal people lived on the Australian continent,” said Greg Hunt, then environment minister in 2014 when Koonalda was designated as a List site. of National Heritage.

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The cave art was evaluated through archaeological remains and fingerprints, then confirmed using radiocarbon technology, according to the country’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water.

In addition to finger flutes, the cave also contained a second type of rock art, with lines cut into the harder parts of the limestone using a sharp tool. The walls have a pattern of horizontal and vertical lines cut in a V shape, according to the government’s website.

The cave and its art have been managed and protected by Mirning elders for generations, Mirning’s statement said.

“All of our elders are saddened, shocked and hurt by the recent destruction of this site,” Lawrie said. “We mourn our holy place. Koonalda is like our grandfather. Our grandfather left his soul on the wall, of the story, of the song.”


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